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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 3; Issue 5; September 2001

Readers Letters

Dear HLT,

I work in a private academy here in the North of Spain. My students are all Spanish and range in ages from 13 to 60+ and have a variety of different levels. My largest class has 13 students but I have smaller classes and one or two individuals.

Personally I have abandoned the coursebooks (though my boss is not 100% happy about it) and prefer to design my classes myself. Of course this means I have a lot more preperation to do than the average teacher, but I think it is worth the trouble. I try to design activities that give learners the oppourtunity to use the language in a genuinely communicative way. I believe in genuine language use, rather than practice. If an activity seems false to me, I don't do it.

I do not present language item by item but prefer to teach vocabulary and grammar when it arises. We all know that language consists of more than just the combination of lexical items and rules, so I encourage creative use of language and will only stop a learner or correct them if their utterance has lead to a breakdown in communication.

In the end, the syllabus comes from the class - I do not impose it on them.

Many of my classes are learner-centred. That is to say that I try, as much as possible, to harvest the knowledge and different experiences that each leaner brings to the learning environment. I am constantly trying to break down the traditional attitudes that learners bring to to class about the learning environment.

I do not sit at the front of the class, I sit with the learners. I always participate in the activities. This is a good way of checking that the activity is interesting. I feel that if it is not something that people would do in their own language then it's not worth doing.

I really see myself as a learning coordinator. As much as I can I try to include activities where learners have the opportunity to learn something about themselves and/or the world. I don't want langauge to be the only thing students take away from these classes.

Student Reaction

How's it all going? Well, it's been mixed really. I would say that in general I've had very positive feedback from the learners. People have said that they've never learnt a language this way before and that they enjoy the classes. My best class is a group of young adults who had a very low level of English but are progessing very quickly. I have two naturally gifted learners in that class and this helps too.

With the teenagers it's a little different. As I said I don't want to come across as a traditional authority figure and they may need or want an authority figure. I am thinking of one particular class which is proving tricky as they are so used to a rigid, structured environment that they seem lost in a freer class where creativity is encouraged. I have a number of students who really won't speak unless asked a question by a teacher.

The other that hasn't reacted well to my approach is an advanced class of young adults. The two youngest members of the group are obviously gifeted language learners who respond well to the traditional study methods they had at school. They are kicking against me as a teacher, because that's what school has taught them to do, and against the method I use because it is not the method they are used to and what worked well for them in the past. One of them said the other day:

    "If I wanted to learn relaxation techniques, I'd go to a relaxation class. This is a language class, Angus, why don't we learn language?"
Guess what she's studying; the first year of English psychology at the university and she wants to be an English teacher!

The others in that class are happy, but I can't help feeling that they are not benefiting as much from the natural approach as the lower levels are. Yes, I forgot, there was one girl left the class before Christmas ( a good thing really, as she was battling against me and the other students from the beginning ) and she said she wanted private lessons: " I need more grammar " were her words.

A final word about exams. I hate them! I think they are one of the most powerful forces in EFL, and I think they are one of the main reasons why, at the end of the day, the traditional study method still rules.

Best wishes,

Angus Head

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